Denmark Vesey's Plantation

A place to discuss whatever comes to mind.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Never Forget!!!!

Emmett Till was the son of Mamie Carthan Till (Bradley, Mobley) and Louis Till. His mother was born to John and Alma Carthan in the small Delta town of Money. When she was two years old, her family moved to Illinois. Emmett's mother largely raised him on her own; she and Louis had separated in 1942.

In 1955, when Till was 14 years old, he was sent for a summer stay with his great uncle, Moses Wright, who lived in Money, Mississippi (a small town eight miles north of Greenwood).

Prior to his journey into the Delta, Emmett's mother cautioned him to "mind his manners" with white people. She told her boy not to fool with white people in Mississippi, "If you have to get on your knees and bow when a white person goes past, do it willingly."

Till's mother understood that in Mississippi race relations were a lot different than in Chicago. In Mississippi, over 500 blacks had been lynched since 1882, and racially motivated murders were still not unfamiliar, especially in the Delta where Till was going to visit. Racial tensions were also on the rise after the United States Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education to end segregation in schools.

Till arrived on August 21; on August 24, he joined other teenagers as they went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market to get some refreshments. The teens were children of sharecroppers and had been picking cotton all day. The market was owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, and mostly catered to the local sharecropper population. While in the store, Till allegedly whistled at, or openly flirted with, Carolyn Bryant and this action greatly angered her husband when he returned home several days later from an out of town trip.

There was no doubt that something had happened between Till and Carolyn Bryant when he and his cousin went inside the small Money grocery store owned by the Bryants. Carolyn Bryant later asserted that Till had grabbed her at the waist and asked her for a date. She said the young man also used “unprintable” words. He had a slight stutter and some have conjectured that Bryant might have misinterpreted what Till said. Several black youths, all under 16, were reported to have been with Till in the store and according to one newspaper account, forced him to leave the store for being “rowdy.”

By the time twenty-nine-year-old Roy Bryant returned to Money from a road trip three days after his wife’s encounter with Till, it seemed that everyone in Tallahatchie County knew about the incident, every conceivable version, and Bryant decided that he and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, 40, would meet around 2:00 a.m. on Sunday to "teach the boy a lesson."


At about 2:30 AM on August 28, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Till, once physically afflicted by polio, from his uncle's house in the small cotton town of Money, Mississippi. He was driven away to a weathered plantation shed in neighboring Sunflower County, where they brutally beat him, gouged out an eye, then shot him with a .45 caliber pistol before tying a seventy-five pound cotton gin fan around Till's neck with barbed wire. This was to weigh down his body, which was dropped into the Tallahatchie River near Glendora, another small cotton town.

A witness heard Till's screams for hours until the two men finally ended Emmett Till’s life.

Though others were clearly involved, the brothers were soon under suspicion for the boy's disappearance and were arrested August 29 after spending the night with relatives living in Rulville, only several miles away from where the murder actually took place.

Both men first admitted they had taken the boy from his great-uncle's home but claimed they turned him loose the same night. Word got out that Till was missing and soon NAACP civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, the state field secretary; and Amzie Moore, head of the Bolivar County chapter, became involved, disguising themselves as cotton pickers and going into the cotton fields in search of any information that would help find the young Delta visitor.

After collecting laborers’ stories first hand, Amzie Moore, a Delta civil rights veteran years since before World War II, observed it was apparent that “more than 2,000 families” were murdered and lynched over the years, with their bodies thrown into the Delta’s swamps and bayous (a much larger figure than the officially estimated "500" bodies).

Some believed that relatives of Till were hiding him out of fear for the youth’s safety. Or that he had been sent back to Chicago where he would be safe. Regardless, witnesses told the Sheriff that Mrs. Bryant identified Till as “the one” after which the group drove away with Till.

Bryant and Milam claimed they later found out Till was not “the one” who allegedly insulted Mrs. Bryant, and swore to Sheriff George Smith they had released the young Chicago visitor. They would later recant and confess, after the trial ended.

In an editorial on Friday, September 2, Greenville journalist Hodding Carter, Jr. asserted that "people who are guilty of this savage crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," a brave suggestion for any Mississippi newspaper editor to make and remain out of harm's way, Carter included.

After a Tutwiler mortuary assistant worked all night to prepare the body as best he could, Mamie Till brought Till's body back to Chicago.

The Chicago funeral home offered to clean up the body for viewing, but Mamie declined, choosing to leave his coffin open. She wanted people to see how badly Till's body had been disfigured. News photographs of Till's mutilated corpse circulated around the country, notably appearing in Jet, drawing intense public reaction. Some reports indicate up to 50,000 people viewed the body.

Emmett Till was buried September 6 in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. The same day, Bryant and Milam were indicted in Mississippi by a grand jury. An investigation involving unprecedented cooperation between local law enforcement, the NAACP, and local reporters was cut short. On September 19, the trial began; on September 23 the jury, made up of 12 white males, acquitted both defendants. Deliberations took just 67 minutes; one juror said they took a "soda break" to stretch the time to over an hour. The hasty acquittal outraged people throughout the United States and Europe, and energized the civil rights movement.

In a 1956 article in Look magazine for which they were paid, J.W. Milam admitted that he and his brother had killed Till. They did not fear being tried again for the same crime because of the double jeopardy right. Milam claimed that initially, their intention was to scare Till into line by pistol-whipping him and threatening to throw him off of a cliff. Milam claimed that regardless of what they did to Till, he never showed any fear, never seemed to believe they would really kill him, and maintained a completely unrepentant, insolent and defiant attitude toward them concerning his actions. Thus, the brothers felt they were left with no choice but to fully make an example of Till. A year later, the magazine returned to the story, indicating that Milam and Bryant had been shunned by the community, and that their stores were closed due to lack of business.

Milam died of cancer in 1980, and Bryant died of cancer in 1990. Mamie (as Mamie Till Mobley) outlived them, dying at age 81 on January 6, 2003. That same year her autobiography "Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America" (One World Books, co-written with Christopher Benson) was published.

National media attention surrounding the young man’s death, the trial and the inevitable acquittal of Till’s killers, would have a broad effect on civil rights that no one could have imagined or predicted in becoming a key factor in the explosive year that launched the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Popular culture

The murder of Emmett Till was felt deeply by African-Americans, civil rights activists and many others. Artistic works drawing on the incident include the first play by eventual Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, a poem by Langston Hughes, and a song by Bob Dylan called "The Death of Emmett Till."

The James Baldwin play "Blues for Mister Charlie" is also loosely based on the case.

Recent fictionalized accounts include two award-winning novels: Bebe Moore Campbell's Your Blues Ain't Like Mine (1992) and Lewis Nordan's Wolf Whistle (1993).

In 2005, the play The State of Mississippi and the Face of Emmett Till premiered in the south for the first time at Dillard University in New Orleans. The show, written by David Barr, was performed again in October (as The Face Of Emmett Till) with a different cast at Coppin State University.

Federal investigation

In 1996, Keith Beauchamp started background research for a feature film he planned to make about Till's murder, and discovered that as many as 15 individuals may have been involved. While conducting interviews he also encountered eyewitnesses who had never spoken out publicly before. As a result he decided to produce a documentary instead, and spent the next nine years creating The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. The film led to calls by the NAACP and others for the case to be reopened.

On May 10, 2004, the United States Department of Justice announced that it was reopening the case to determine whether anyone other than Milam and Bryant were involved. Although the statute of limitations prevented charges being pursued under federal law, they could be pursued before the state court, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and officials in Mississippi worked jointly on the investigation. As no autopsy had been performed on Till's body, it was exhumed from the suburban Chicago cemetery where it was buried on May 31, 2005, and the Cook County coroner then conducted the autopsy. The body was reburied by relatives on June 4.

On August 26, 2005 the Jackson Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi announced that the exhumed body had been positively identified as that of Emmett Till.

Possible defendants in the reopening of the case include Carolyn Donham, ex-wife of Roy Bryant, and Henry Lee Loggins, the now 82-year-old former plantation worker who is currently living in an Ohio nursing home.

In August 2005, a 38-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 49 north from Tutwiler, Mississippi to Greenwood, Mississippi was renamed in honor of Till.


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